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Business group seeks to terminate employment of Oregon medical marijuana patients… just for being medical marijuana patients

Associated Oregon Industries (AOI) is a pro-business organization made up of Oregon companies and national companies with Oregon offices. Their mission is to lobby the Oregon legislature on issues that impact businesses. While we at Oregon NORML are supportive of Oregon’s business community, we cannot ignore AOI’s position regarding medical marijuana patients inthe workplace.

Simply put, AOI is fighting to grant Oregon employers the privilege of firing medical marijuana patients… solely for using their medicine!

This isn’t about allowing medical marijuana patients to fire up their medical delivery device at the workplace. This issue stems from a court case, Washburn v. Columbia Forest Products, which is soon to be heard by the Oregon Supreme Court. Washburn, a registered medical marijuana patient since 1999, was fired from his job after testing positive for THC metabolites in his urine during a urine test.

As anyone familiar with marijuana policy can tell you, the active medicinal ingredient in cannabis is delta-9 tetrahydrocannibinol (THC). Urine tests do not test for the presence of THC, but rather the metabolites a person’s system produces in reaction to THC. These metabolites can remain present in a person’s system for 3 to 30 days, well after any psychoactive or motor impairment — and the actual THC — has long since left the person’s system.

Therefore, a patient who uses medical marijuana at night to calm the spasms of multiple sclerosis (like talk show host Montel Williams) so he can sleep peacefully could awaken the next day, fresh and sober, go into work, fail a urine test, and be fired that day. Or a cancer patient who uses medical marijuana once per week to deal with the nausea from her weekly chemotherapy sessions could fail the urine test next week and be out on the streets looking for work. Even a patient who uses medical marijuana only once a month for occasional pain faces the prospect of losing his job, just for using his legally prescribed pain medicine. Very few of Oregon’s 11,000+ medical marijuana patients could ever pass an employer’s urine test.

Can you imagine any pro-business organization fighting for an employer privilege to fire employees who test positive for any other legal medication in their urine? Why is AOI not demanding the privilege of employers to fire people who use OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet, or Darvocet outside the workplace and on their own time?

AOI contends that the Washburn case has the potential of allowing medical marijuana patients to use their medicine immediately before work, and that employees will be facing “dangerous conditions” from working alongside cannabis-impaired patients. Such drug war hysteria has long since been debunked. Cannabis users, medical or not, have never been shown to have significantly higher incidents of accident, absenteeism, inefficiency, behavioral, or other problems in the workplace.

Of course, an impaired medical marijuana patient in the workplace is not what concerns AOI and their supporters; it’s the functional, productive, gainfully-employed medical marijuana patient they fear. Businesses have invested a great deal of time and money in workplace drug testing regimens. Many businesses get deductions on their insurance premiums for enacting workplace drug testing programs. Also, drug testing programs allow businesses to legally discriminate against hiring a certain “type” of person (0ne who chooses cannabis over, say, a six-pack of beer after work) and to maintain an atmosphere of intrusion and control over the private lives of those they do hire.

How is a business going to justify a program to test an employee’s urine for marijuana when all the employees work alongside a medical marijuana patient who is a productive, safe, efficient model employee? How will a company use the scare tactics of the marijuana user creating “dangerous conditions” in the workplace when the company’s medical marijuana patient proves so obviously that scenario to be a lie? They can’t — and AOI knows it — so they are willing to sacrifice the jobs of medical marijuana patients so the drug testing house of cards doesn’t come tumbling down.

AOI has been fighting against medical marijuana for a long time now. In the last legislative session, they lobbied aggressively for bills that would grant employers the privilege of firing medical marijuana patients. Their allies in the Oregon Legislature added amendments to the recently-passed Senate Bill 1085 to give employers that very privilege — amendments that were narrowly defeated by Oregon NORML and other medical marijuana-supporting organizations and our allies in the Senate.

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